Preparing for a cross-channel world
In today’s hyper-connected world, customers have increasingly high expectations of retailers. Flitting between different digital devices and sales channels as they research and make purchases, consumers expect to be able to find the items they want to buy quickly, without any fuss and at a competitive price. If a retailer meets, or even better exceeds, these expectations, all the research suggests such cross-channel consumers will be among a company’s highest-value customers. But disappoint them and they will simply go elsewhere.
Accuracy and consistency are key to delivering customer satisfaction in this emerging cross-channel landscape. As customers move from mobile to desktop, bricks-and-mortar store to tablet PC, they soon notice if a product description or even price doesn’t tally with what they’ve seen elsewhere. Any such discrepancies make them distrustful of a retailer because customers don’t see different channels, they just see a brand giving out contradictory messages.
To prevent this occurring, companies need to manage the vast amounts of information, ‘big data’ in current industry parlance, that cross-channel retail both relies upon and generates. It’s for this reason that top retailers, including Stibo Systems clients such as House of Fraser , B&Q and Mothercare , are investing in product information management (PIM) technology. This isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ piece of software, but an enterprise-level solution that enables retailers to collate, build and then manage an underlying foundation of accurate, centrally held product data.
REACHING OUT TO CUSTOMERS
Considering the problems many retailers have with teams working in different areas of the organisation each working in different ‘silos’ and unable easily to share information, that’s a powerful idea in itself. However, it’s important to realise a PIM system is about far more than helping to guarantee the consistency of data, it also enables retailers to get on the front foot when dealing with customers, to feed this information out to different channels in order to help drive sales.
This works in a number of different ways. At a basic level, consistent product data is crucial to searchandising and merchandising, because it equates to customers being more likely to find relevant search results on a website, and being better able to compare different products. PIM can also be used to manage crossselling and upselling. Rich and and original product data is also central to implementing an effective search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.
Of course, these are techniques associated primarily with the web, yet as we’ve already noted customers now move across channels – in ways that are tough to predict and tough to track. Indeed, it’s one of the paradoxes of 21st-century retail that even as customers buy more and more of their goods online, the idea of ecommerce as a distinct discipline is becoming increasingly obsolete as once distinct lines between channels blur.
BUILD AROUND THE CUSTOMER
Instead, forward-looking retailers are now focusing far more closely on customer behaviour, trying to build operations and systems around the changing ways that consumers actually want to shop. Such a ‘customer-centric’ approach requires companies to be nimble and adaptable, able to open a ‘pop-up shop’ at short notice or react when a product starts trending on social media.
It also puts an onus on retailers not just to offer consistent data to customers, but information that’s specific to context. That might be as simple as offering mobile-friendly content. Or consider a customer using a kiosk in a store. If he or she is an existing customer who logs in, there’s a golden opportunity to offer personalised recommendations and offers based on, for example, smartphone searches that may have taken place in the past few minutes.
Here, it’s important to emphasise that a PIM system doesn’t just handle product information. Retailers can also feed in social media data, feedback from the customer and location data, the kind of rich data needed to drive sales. It’s precisely because of the demands of these kind of complex cross-channel scenarios that managing product data is becoming a key strategic consideration – it’s the underlying data that drives effective merchandising and marketing within these scenarios.
That’s not going to change. Think of what’s ahead. As, for example, augmented reality (AR) gradually finds its way into our daily lives, it’s easy to get fixated on the prospect of an immersive experience beyond anything we enjoy now. Yet stop to consider the following, where will the data that feeds AR be held? That would be a job for PIM.
For more on product information management within cross-channel retail, download Stibo Systems’ white paper, Multi-everything from here.